It's amazing how one day everything goes your way; the riders are not riding too quickly, all the road detours are traffic free, and you can shoot 4 spots without too much trouble. Then, the next day, it all goes to hell in a hand basket.
It started OK; we shot the start and got away easily enough, with sufficient time to fuel up the car and fill the glove box with goodies.
The plan was to do one shot early in the stage, then hit the bricks to be on the descent of the Col de Manse – where the stage could be won or lost.
Our first location was the town of Pontaix on the river Drôme. There was a bridge running right through the centre of the village. The ancient-looking stone buildings with pale blue shutters stood starkly against the vivid blue sky.
The river itself was a milky colour, not dissimilar to the pebbles that lined the banks. There was a row of coloured deck chairs put out on the bank of the river, but no one was using them because they were up on the roadside watching the race.
We had to get going as soon as the riders passed, as the detour to get back in front was by way of the Col de Grimone. This was a winding back road for over 60kms – but should get us to the town of Veynes 20 minutes before the riders were due.
But there was a problem. The riders had a tail wind and their average speed for the first hour was 53kph – much faster than the race book’s predicted 45kph. If they kept up that pace we may not make it in time.
The detour required us to follow the race route for around 10km until we could exit for the climb of Col de Grimone.
On other days we had driven behind the Fin de Course and they had managed to keep us close to the back of the peloton, meaning we can usually follow along at a respectable speed.
Today they decided that as soon as we got behind them it was time to stop for a nature break and a smoke.
Panic started to set in as the motorcycle Gendarmes pulled up as well and took off their helmets and jackets to get more comfortable.
They weren’t going anywhere fast. We sidled up next to them to ask if we could go ahead while they took a break and the answer was “Impossible”.
Watching our arrival time go up by the minute plus the fact the riders once again had a tailwind I was sure we had no chance.
I madly tried to find another route, but we couldn’t turn around and drive backwards and the roads are few and far between in this mountainous landscape. So we were stuck.
Then to our relief they put their helmets back on and started moving.
We might still have a hope of making it as they sped off at a rapid pace. But that was short-lived as they stopped again. This time it was at an intersection and another press car caught behind sped off down the side road.
I checked the map and we could take the side road although it was longer than our current route but if they stopped for much longer it may work out faster.
“Let’s take it” and no sooner had we put the indicator on and started to turn than a lady came running over to the car trying to tell us something in French. We couldn’t understand what she was saying – then her friend that spoke english came to help. She told us that the road was closed permanently and there was no way through.
So we turned back around and thanked them for saving us from an absolute disaster.
While this was going on the Fin de Course had started moving again so we could get back on track.
The road to the Col de Grimone wasn’t too much further but a lot of time had passed since the riders had ridden through.
Turning on to the narrow street we were off the race course but now people were walking back to their cars, politely beeping the horn and creeping up the street as the crowd had to step aside to let us pass.
Then we had to drive off the road and onto the footpath to get around a police van that was parked side ways in the street.
Eventually we made it out of the mess and now we needed to make up some time.
Under normal circumstances the next section of road would have had us stopping and taking lots photos as it was amazing; winding its way through the towering canyon walls ether side – but we didn’t have a moment to spare.
I tried desperately to get some information about the race and find out if we could still make it but there was no internet coverage.
We arrived at the top of the Grimone and there was a set of traffic lights – the kind they use for road works. The light was red and we had to wait 98 agonising seconds before we could set off again.
Coming into the town things looked good; there were still people milling arounds and, sure enough, we were waved through. We made it, the stage was salvaged.
We made it to the Col de Manse and set up just before the riders came flying down the descent with a backdrop of the mountains in the distance.
It was a good way to finish week two. The rest day tomorrow is going to be very much appreciated.
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.